Transformational Election – Transformational Speech!

A rare moment of opportunity and execution came together in the Presidential Election and the victory speech. The election itself was transformational – that’s not for this blog to expound as there are enough others talking, blogging and twittering over that major event.

Barack Obama gave a once in a decade speech in accepting the Presidency. He has an incredible ability to move people with oratory in both his behavior and content – and he took advantage of that when he had his most important audience of perhaps hundreds of millions of people across the world.

  • Presidential: He looked and spoke like a President. Whether you voted for him or not, if you weren’t impressed you were not looking and listening. He did all the right things, under pressure.
  • All About You: He talked about the people of his campaign, the people of his country, and the people who did not vote for him. He did not gloat, but he spoke as one who wanted to unite. This speech was not about him.
  • On Point: He had a Point Of View, and stayed on message – just as his campaign did. It was all about change. Change from a country of slavery to a country where a black man could be elected President. Change from a broken country to a healing country. It was a disciplined speech, just as he ran a disciplined campaign.
  • Story: He used his usual picturesque language, and had a great story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year old woman from Atlanta who waited to vote for 4 hours. She was born a generation from slavery, and when women couldn’t vote, couldn’t drive and couldn’t fly. Powerful contrasts to today, and the task at hand.
  • Likability: This is one of the most important factors in communicating – and determines most elections by influencing the undecideds. Barack Obama has the unique quality of being both Presidential and likable. He is measured (actually professorial), easy going yet energetic. He smiles, has an open face and appears thoughtful (a listener). His personality and ability to connect with eyes, gesture and voice is impressive, and certainly helped him influence the vote in his favor. And those behaviors all came to the fore in this memorable speech.

There is more, and there are some things he could do better. But that’s for another time. Tonight is President-elect Obama’s night – and he took advantage of the opportunity to bring others along with him. That’s what a great speech does.

18 comments on “Transformational Election – Transformational Speech!

  1. What a great speech shows us about fundraising

    When this blog launched after the 2004 election, there were a lot of unfortunate examples from the failed campaign of Senator John Kerry on how we often get fundraising wrong — how we fail to connect with people by using…

  2. Following up on what Biff was saying… I think Obama’s somber tone was exactly what the moment called for. It seemed to be his way of saying: “we won the battle, but not the war.” I think he was also acutely aware of how divisive an exuberant or gloating speech would have been to those who voted for McCain. Even the photos of he and his family watching the results come in show an incredibly disciplined, tempered response. Of course we remember him smiling, because so many of us were smiling, crying, or otherwise experiencing a collective cathartic response (I was jumping up and down like a little girl–something I don’t think I even actually did when I was a little girl).

  3. I too have been impressed by his speeches and like your concise analysis. I disagree with the common sentiment that this election was won on the internet. His ability as a speech writer and an orator had a much greater role.

  4. Very interesting analysis, and I agree with most of it, but there is one point about which I disagree, and it’s regarding the comment that “He smiles…those behaviors all came to the fore in this memorable speech.”
    Actually he only smiled twice (by my count) in the 17 minute speech – once at the very beginning (right after “Hello Chicago”), and again, very briefly, when he mentioned his daughters. Amazingly, he didn’t even smile when he mentioned his wife, Joe Biden, or the puppy!
    When I was watching the speech live, I was struck by how somber, occasionally almost angry, his delivery of the speech seemed. As an exercise, try watching the speech with the sound turned off, and just observe the facial language and the body language.
    Please note – that isn’t a criticism of his delivery at all – I felt like he was aiming for a somewhat subdued “I have a dream” style, suggesting a long, hard road ahead, lots of difficult challenges, etc.
    What I am struck by is the “echo” power of his previous speeches and image crafting to make people think they saw a “smiling,” happy speech, when that is not what they saw at all.
    Interesting to think about this in the context of psychology research about the reliability of eyewitness testimony (i.e. that it’s quite low, with eyewitnesses extrapolating and interpolating facts to fit a narrative.)

  5. Guy made me aware of your comments for which I am very thankful-this was a historic speech and as a European I had to wipe tears away for this beam of hope and fresh air. Europe is sooo relieved about this grand victory of an outstanding man – who will soon demonstrate his talent as an integrator in the international world
    thanks again for this brillant summary

  6. Another component of both McCain and Obama’s speeches was that both had grace and humility – and neither marred the event by trying to score a point off the other at a time when they had the world’s ears. Leaders the world over can learn from both of them. (Posted by a South African who watched the speeches live on CNN)

  7. Mitch, I agree that “Yes I can” is powerful for two reasons:
    * Empowering people, as you say.
    * Also using repetition and the Rule of Three – excellent and proven oratorical devices.

  8. Your analysis is very much to the point. Couldn’t agree more.
    Obama’s presidential speech has moved me and I’m not very emotional when politicians are concerned (due to many unpleasant experiences I’ve had with them).
    I hope Obama won’t stop his emotional and rational campaign until the end of his term. I hope he does the things he has talked about. The time has come for USA to change its own perception of self and how people perceive USA. He appears to be someone who understands that and is capable of focusing that new (green) energy inward.
    Greetings from Serbia!

  9. This was so remarkable, it was hard to describe with words!
    Now I am actually optimistic about the four next years, not just because of Obama, but because this country really showed it wanted to change course last night!

  10. I also landed here from Guy’s tweet–and am thankful that I did. Great review of the speech that I felt honored to live in a time to see it for my own eyes. we just witnessed the history of the world change forever.

  11. I never wanted his speech to end, I have never felt this much of a connection to a president. I’m here from Twitter too.

  12. Excellent review Bert. I would add one more point:
    Yes I can.
    I think really great speeches are not just about hope and change but ones that make the person in the audience, “yes, I can do that.” It’s nice to say all the right things, but it’s next-level presenting when your audience becomes 100% empowered. I believe his speech will (and did) transform the American people. And, as a Canadian, that is saying something.
    Why is this powerful?
    A great speech brings out the emotion in the audience. Even I had tears in my eyes watching this historic moment.
    That is, without a doubt, how you deliver an amazing speech.

  13. Landed here from Guy’s tweet, too. Excellent analysis. I watched it once, then watched the re-run. Made me proud to be an American. We did well this time. Tomorrow’s a new day, and this was a great speech. We needed that. Thanx for the spot-on analysis. Hope lots of people see it.